25 Years of Fire Island Dance Festival

By Robert LevineIt was a sultry, beautiful Sunday on the hottest weekend of the year, and more than 200 people were assembled at this gracious space overlooking the Great South Bay, waiting for the dance recital to begin. This was the final performance of the Dancers Responding to AIDS weekend in Fire Island Pines, also known as the Fire Island Dance Festival, now celebrating it’s 25th season. Actor, singer, and dancer himself, Joel Grey was selected this year to be the master of ceremonies – and what a fitting selection it was to commemorate this landmark anniversary. Taking a page from his Tony Award and Oscar Award winning performances in “Cabaret,” he sang the iconic “Velcome” in a capella. The lyrics were modified to fit the occasion. Grey was a natural on stage as he welcomed us all to the Fire Island Pines Dance Festival, and warmly introduced the performing groups – 10 dance companies in all. Highlights included MOMIX, featuring Gregory De Arnold, Steven Ezra and Jason Williams with their pole dance routine. Also, Robbie Fairchild, a Tony Award nominee for “An American in Paris,” and the star of the upcoming film version of “Cats,” tap danced to a new piece, entitled “Destination Moon,” choreographed by Michelle Dorrance, who joined Fairchild in the number along with additional dancers. Another outstanding performance was Aran Bell and Catherine Hurlin who performed “Adagio 1986,” choreographed by James Whiteside. Catherine is the daughter of Denise Roberts Hurlin who is one of the producers of this event, but her performance shines in its own right. Garen Scribner, a soloist from nearby Babylon, was also extraordinary. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater did “Sinner Man,” an excerpt from Revelations, choreographed by the late Ailey himself. The last performance of the evening was by Al Blackstone, who choreographed and created “Weekend ’76,” and this finale number was also its world premiere performance. It was a nostalgic retrospect of circa 1976. Dancers portrayed beach boys and girls in the Pines, a businessman and policeman as well – then of course a drag queen. The Pines beach, its discos, shopping, parties, and cruising were vividly brought to life – the audience was thrilled! Last year the last performance was rained out. This time we had a short sun shower, but the show went on. It was a cooling relief actually. After the performance the entire audience was invited to Whyte Hall for drinks and to mingle with the cast and friends. Twenty-five years ago, this event began with an idea by Hernando Cortes, Jack Schlegel, Denise Roberts Hurlin, and Executive Director of Broadway Cares Tom Viola. All were present on Sunday except Jack. Other producers in attendance were Knox Martin and Adam Rei Siegel.The Dance Festival broke records this year, raising $657,842 ($6.7 million to date), benefiting the Broadway Cares programs. In addition, this year $25,000 was donated to the Pines Care Center, which offers free walk-in rapid HIV, STD and Hepatitis C testing, for island residents, throughout the summer and thus keeping some of the care right here at home. There have been important strides in the fight against AIDS since the Fire Island Dance Festival began 25 years ago, and no longer is it dance against time – but one towards breakthroughs and enduring hope.